Geist Superhero: Friends and Neighbors Rally Around Luke Andritsch
When over 6500 participants fill the streets for the third running of the Geist Half Marathon & 5K next month, hundreds of them will be proudly wearing a Team Luke shirt, in honor of one local six-year-old boy. While others might be running to meet personal goals, or for the thrill of crossing the finish line, Team Luke members will be running to raise awareness, raise donations, and to honor one small little guy who loves Spiderman.
The real-life superhero in question is Geist resident Luke Andritsch, who was diagnosed three years ago with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), and has been fighting for his life ever since. Along with his trusty sidekicks (his mother, Vicky; his father, Todd; plus four other siblings), Luke has faced his battle with the courage of a seasoned warrior, and has become a shining inspiration to hundreds, if not thousands of friends and strangers alike.
To understand the enormity of Luke’s fight, and his family’s dedication to not only helping Luke, but to raising awareness and donations for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), it is important to start at the beginning.
“It was three years ago on Mother’s Day weekend,” explains Vicky, when discussing the onset of Luke’s illness. “We were eating at Bella Vita’s in Geist on a Friday night, and Luke was down by the water feeding the ducks. He was perfectly fine,” she explains. “But when Luke woke up the next morning, he couldn’t move from the shoulders down,” she says. It was that quick.
Luke was rushed to an immediate care center, where he was diagnosed with a double ear infection. After receiving antibiotics, Luke was sent home, but his symptoms got progressively worse. On Monday, he was taken to Riley Hospital for Children in downtown Indianapolis, and received an MRI and a battery of tests. Vicky and Todd were given the news: their then three-year-old boy had ALL.
“That weekend turned our world upside down,” explains Vicky. “It was terrifying, and it was the beginning of 3 1/2 years of chemo treatments, spinal taps and medications,” she says.
So how does a family of seven deal with such an unexpected diagnosis? “It’s something you just can’t prepare for as a parent,” Vicky says. “But we learned to just put our heads down and move forward. We figured that Luke’s illness was either going to take us all down, or pull us all together. Here we are almost three years later, and we’re still moving forward,” she says.
The past three years of Luke’s treatment have not been easy. Luke has endured daily chemo treatments, taking up to 14 pills on some nights, plus monthly infusions into his port, which is located in his chest. He also has spinal taps every three months, and by the time he has his last one this June, he’ll have had almost 20.
Although the demanding regimen has taken a toll on Luke’s tired little body, his attitude and spirit have remained intact. In fact, his positive outlook and deep personal insights have left family members and friends astounded. This is how Vicky describes Luke on the Team Luke website, www.teamluke.webs.com:
Luke – what can we say… pillowy soft cheeks, thick blond hair (when he has it!), beautiful, deep, blue eyes; looks like a football player, acts like a teddy bear. A kind, old and gentle soul in a little boy’s body.
It is Luke’s kindness, innocence and generous spirit that have captured the hearts of so many. In fact, when Vicky recently asked Luke what his dream in life would be, he responded: “My dream is to work with Spiderman to find a cure for cancer. Then Spiderman and me will web ourselves, hospital to hospital, and pass out toys to all the sick children and make them all better,” he said.
So with a caring child, and four enthusiastic siblings (Jack, 15; Grace, 12; Audrey, 9; and Ava, 3) the Andritsch family decided to bring people together to celebrate life, and celebrate Luke’s progress along the way.
“We couldn’t do anything for Luke. We couldn’t take away the pain or the process. But we knew that if we got involved as a group, if we participated in community events, it would help us feel like we had control over something,” says Vicky.
Thus, the mighty Team Luke was formed. Family members and friends joined as a team in the Geist Half Marathon last year for the first time, with 125 participants on board. This year, Team Luke is 250 people strong and still growing, with expected donations to top $6,000.
Geist resident Maria Olson will be a part of Team Luke with her five-year-old son, Kyle, and her two-year-old daughter, Hayden, in the Geist 5K. She met Vicky through Team in Training (TNT), which is LSS’s charity sports training program. Olson is also celebrating her five-year remission from Hodgkins lymphoma, and ran with Team Luke in the Half Marathon last year as well.
“Doing the event and knowing that your money is going toward something that touches so many lives, well, it’s an emotional feeling,” Olson says. “Luke is an inspiration. Any kid that can go through what I’ve gone through and still be a kid is just amazing,” she says.
Vicky says that having friends like Olson, as well as having an involved business community, is what makes Team Luke so special. “We have corporate sponsors that are really supportive,” says Vicky. “We’ll have a special tent set up for after the race, where we’ll have food, raffles, prizes, and lots of celebrating,” she adds.
“Last year, Luke’s sister, Grace, gave him a piggy-back ride across the finish line,” says Vicky. “This year, Luke has been training to make it across the bridge all by himself, and he hopes to cross the finish line on his own,” she adds.
As Vicky explains, “LLS has offered countless services to our family, and continues to offer research in order to make Luke’s prognosis and remission a reality. Our family remains committed to supporting LLS, much through our Team in Training events, like the Geist Half Marathon,” she says. “We will do this not only during Luke’s years of treatment, but for our lifetime.”
Luke will complete his treatment on July 19, and his family will celebrate not only the end of the regimen, but the removal of his chest port. The “Port Party” will mark Luke’s successful battle with ALL, and a new beginning for the family. But make no mistake, with the help of Spiderman, Luke continues his fight for others, and the Andritsch family will continue to lead the war against blood cancers. Just as real superheroes should.
If you would like to join Team Luke or support LLS, visit the Team Luke website (www.teamluke.webs.com), or visit www.lls.org. To post well-wishes to Luke on his Caringbridge website, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/lukeandritsch.